This piece was originally written by junior Sarah Feldpausch as a definition essay in her advanced composition class. Sarah is a writing major and business administration minor from Middleville. She is a member of the women’s soccer team, women’s track and field team, Student-Athlete Advisory Council, Optimist Club and Global Citizen Honors Program. Sarah plans to attend law school after her graduation.
Newly cut grass causes the air to smell fresh, like somehow the environment is cleaner because of the precisely decapitated grass stalks. Stark white lines draw a rectangle in the grass to mark a boundary. Bleachers that stand at the edge of the line host anxious, supporting parents’ eyes as they anticipate the game going on in front of them. Twenty-two athletes fill the space within the confines of the soccer field. The athletes are all present because they simply love soccer, and they couldn’t picture their lives without it. It’s no different on a baseball diamond, a football field, a lacrosse field, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a track or any other sport arena. Each Division III collegiate athlete is internally motivated to be where they are. People often don’t understand why Division III athletes commit so much time to sports when they don’t have any external motivation to compete, such as receiving any financial compensation. The simple reason that they choose to compete without compensation is because Division III athletic programs are made up of internal benefits that are motivating almost two million students to continue competing in college simply because they love competing in their sport.
Division III schools are members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and they make up the smallest schools among the members based on a student body count per school. Division I schools are often the largest schools, based on student body, building sizes and the amount of scholarship dollars awarded to students. Division II schools also offer large amounts of scholarship funding. What sets Division III apart from Division I and Division II is that, “the emphasis is on the value of competing in sports to the [participating student]. There is less of a focus on generating revenue or creating events for spectators.” There are no athletic scholarships. Even though there are no athletic scholarships, more students are internally motivated to participate: 26 percent of Division III students participate in sports, while only 9 percent of Division II students participate, and only 4 percent of Division I participate.
It is often argued that if a student-athlete wants to become a professional athlete that they should attend a Division I school because they are “better,” but only 2 percent of approximately five million NCAA athletes actually become professionals. Although Division III schools don’t offer financial compensation, they still possess talent. For example, NFL free agent Ryan Anderson spent four years punting for Olivet College, a Division III school. Anderson can still be seen coming back to the Olivet campus to celebrate homecoming or to reminisce with the friends that he made here. The NCAA Division III motto is, “discover, develop, dedicate,” and Anderson surely did that.
What Division III has to offer is not athletic scholarships. Division III doesn’t pay its athletes to attend in order to generate revenue for the school or to create events for fans to come watch. It doesn’t guarantee packed bleachers with cheering fans. It doesn’t promise a rewarding career because of a student’s athletic performance. It doesn’t determine if a student can become a professional athlete. It doesn’t offer an entire wardrobe of apparel with their name plastered on the back.
However, Division III athletics is dedication; the athletes who participate get up for practice at 5 a.m. of their own free will, not to maintain a scholarship. They wake up because it simply matters to them. Division III is drive; the athletes choose to run faster, lift more and throw further, so that they can become better. Division III is commitment; they show up every single day ready to perform to the best of their ability. Division III is growth; they come back season after season to become better, for themselves and their teammates. Division III is friendships; the comradery forms over hours of time together, through tears of joy after winning the biggest game of the season and tears of despair after the final game of the season is over and the realization hits that some players will never set foot on the field, court, track or diamond again. Friendships form through laughter, successes, challenges and mistakes. Division III is kindness and patience; not all players possess the skill required to find individual success, but they are essential to the team nonetheless. Division III is an education; the athletes aren’t attending just to continue their athletic endeavors; rather, they are receiving a quality education while partaking in something that they love. Division III is the relationships that are built; coaches, athletic trainers, athletic staff members, professors, other faculty members and friends become unforgettable. Division III is a team potluck after a Saturday morning game. Division III is a team breakfast made up of gooey cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon and fresh fruit hosted by the players’ parents. Division III is karaoke on the bus singing along to Disney songs and even songs that the coaches wish they had never heard. Division III is study tables in the library to make sure the team GPA stays high. Division III is supporting other teams within the school by attending their meets and games and cheering them on as they compete, knowing that they will return the favor.
Recognition for Division III sports doesn’t come easy, or even at all. Just because an athlete is not being paid to participate doesn’t mean that it isn’t physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. Student-athletes across all divisions commit to their team and their school, which requires time, but the return is worth it. Just like athletes who are paid, Division III athletes balance challenging classes, heavy workloads, hours at practice, on the bus or at games, and all of the other daily activities, but they compete because they love their sport, and what they get out of it is much more than a sum of money. Division III athletics is what has brought me back to Olivet semester after semester, because without it I wouldn’t be the athlete, the student or person I am today.